Your Moment of 80’s Baseball Zen

Philadelphia Phillies fans
Philadelphia Phillies fans (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

Wally Joyner to join the Phillies as assistant hitting coach.  Good for you, Wally!

Now, can anyone tell me where the urban legend of Joyner owning Fleer started?  Don’t tell me it was just something my cousin made up.

The Woman Who Stood Up To Joe Paterno; Omerta, Never Virtue

CNN with “The Woman Who Stood Up to Joe Paterno,” a piece about Vicky Triponey, the former Penn State VP in charge of student discipline who profoundly clashed with Joe Paterno over how players should be punished for off-field infractions.

You should read the whole thing, but I was particularly interested in Paterno’s thinly-veiled misogyny:

“I am very troubled by the manipulative, disrespectful, uncivil and abusive behavior of our football coach,” she wrote. “It is quite shocking what this man — who is idolized by people everywhere — is teaching our students.”

Paterno clearly seemed to resent “meddling” from outsiders, even if Triponey was simply doing her job. She saw the dangers of special treatment that placed football players under a softer standard than other students lived by. She said it wasn’t right. But it was a battle she couldn’t win.

Paterno ridiculed her on a radio show as “that lady in Old Main” who couldn’t possibly know how to handle students because “she didn’t have kids.”

And there’s also this:

And then one day in late 2004, as disciplinary sanctions were being considered against a member of the football team, she received a visit from Paterno’s wife, who had tutored the player.

He’s a good kid, Sue Paterno said. Could they give him a break?

Triponey realized then that she wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Or even Connecticut.

By the next year, 2005, she was battling Paterno himself over who controlled how football players were disciplined. Paterno also chafed over enforcing Penn State’s code of conduct off campus.

Spanier called a meeting at which Paterno angrily dominated the conversation, Triponey recalled. She summarized the meeting in an e-mail to Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley and others, complaining that Paterno “is insistent that he knows best how to discipline his players” and that her department should back off.

And, perhaps most tellingly:

Tensions reached the breaking point in 2007 over how to discipline half a dozen players who’d been arrested at a brawl at an off-campus apartment complex. Several students were injured; one beaten unconscious.

Triponey met with Paterno and other university officials half a dozen times, although she preferred to remain neutral as the appeals hearing officer.

At the final meeting, Triponey urged the coach to advise his players to tell the truth. Paterno said angrily that he couldn’t force his players to “rat” on each other since they had to practice and play together. Curley and Spanier backed him up on that point, she said.

That thing about “ratting,”  you caught, that right?  I’m fairly certain Paterno didn’t come across that code of ethics in his celebrated study of Virgil and the Roman classics.  It sounds a lot more like omerta.

Forget that we’re conditioned to expect misogyny and reckless codes of male super-valuation from old men, or the Mafioso codes of silence or the parallels to the Catholic Church’s endless scandals. Over a lifetime, the Brown-educated, Latin-reading Paterno presented as someone fit and wise and cosmopolitan enough to lead the big business of Penn State football, and, over the course of time and through the gross misguidance of others that he did nothing to remedy (and seemingly encouraged), the University itself.

Turns out he hadn’t really been fit for any of these roles since 1998.  Maybe sooner.  I suspect we’ll’ learn more than we ever wanted to know about Joe Paterno in the coming weeks and months.  He can’t defend himself, it’s true.  But he had opportunities before he passed, and he continued lying to everyone, including the community he claimed to love and, most ironic for a life-long student of the classics, himself.

Chuck Klosterman Is Wrong About Football (and Temporal Relativity)

At Grantland, a great and not great venture I love and don’t love, Chuck Klosterman says, repeatedly, that football’s popularity has nothing to do with its violence.

He also says:

Now, I realize an argument can be made that eroticized violence is inherent to any collision spectator sport, and that people who love football are tacitly endorsing (and unconsciously embracing) a barbaric activity that damages human bodies for entertainment and money. I get that, and I don’t think the argument is weak. However, it’s still mostly an abstraction. People will freak out when they eventually see someone killed on the football field (which, it seems, is now inevitable). But they won’t stop enjoying football. They might feel obligated to criticize it, and maybe they’ll temporarily stop watching. But they’ll still self-identify as “football fans,” because what they consciously like about the game is (almost certainly) not tied to people being hurt. Football is not like boxing; violence is central to the game, but it’s not the whole game. You can love it for a multitude of complex, analytical reasons. And that allows this cognitive dissonance to exist in perpetuity (i.e., “I know this is probably bad for society, but I desperately want it to continue”).

That’s a lot of hedging.

Here’s the thing.  When we were kids, my cousin and I would get as close to the fence at the local high school football games as we could just so we could hear helmets crack and other things pop. We were not violent children, his BAD-era Michael Jackson studded leather jacket notwithstanding.  We enjoyed football because we were supposed to, because big kids were running up and down the field, but also because those kids were trying to destroy each other.  They were big and we were small.  They could do things we’d only seen on Challenge of the Superfriends. It was empowering, it was wish fulfillment, and it was totally sanctioned by everyone.

Today, professional football players moan and groan about rules that are making the game too soft.  The very people that stand to gain the most from a softer game are leading the chorus against it, because “that’s football.”

Chuck, you have to know that the popularity and violence of football intersect all the time, for players and for fans.  If my cousin and I were living through the juniors and seniors of the William Allen High School football team, how many millions of people are living through the stars of today’s NFL?

And it’s not like those stars aren’t bigger, stronger, and faster than ever before, leaving longer trails of CTE in their wake.  It’s not like that upward physical curve, which manifests as some kind of violence on every play, isn’t part and parcel to football’s always-increasing popularity.  These things feed each other.  It’s like the longball, steroids, and the 90s.

Klosterman is right that there are other things about football to appreciate, but they’re all predicated on violence or the avoidance of violence.

It may or may not be the case that football, as an abstraction, is too violent.  But it’s certainly the case the football in its current form is too physically dangerous to be sustainable over the long term.

Klosterman says:

If football’s ever-rising popularity was directly tied to its ever-increasing violence, something might collapse upon itself: Either the controversy would fade over time, or it would become a terminal anchor on its expansion. But that’s not how it’s unfolding. These two worlds will never collide. They’ll just continue to intensify, each in its own vacuum. This column can run today, or it can run in 2022. The future is the present is the future.

No, Chuck, THIS column will be always be true, forever and ever and ever, because the beginning is the end is the beginning, or another Smashing Pumpkins song from Batman.

James Harden’s Unique Confidence: Scoring In the Post-Modern

“So if he’s so shy and unassuming, why does Harden treat the basketball court like a stage? “You’re dealing with a person who’s so eclectic, so unique, that he just doesn’t fit into the natural expectations,” says Presti. “There’s an artistry to the way he plays the game. He’s expressing himself out there. I think someday after basketball is over he’s going to realize he has an artistic trait, that he’s naturally a great painter or something. You have to have a unique confidence to be who he is.”

Jordan Conn on your favorite rising star. (Grantland).

As a sixth-man break out who can dominate a game, Manu Ginobili may be the original James Harden, but James Harden may become the consummate post-modern Ginobili. I love both those player and both these teams, but Harden occupies a unique spot in the NBA’s liminal space.  It’s not about the beard or about being eccentric.  It’s about artistry and, as Conn suggests, self-awareness.  And we love self-awareness, especially when it empowers us to excel.  LeBron James gets dogged for having the other kind of self-awareness, though I have to say: his routine with Kevin Garnett last night was, for me, refreshing.

As far as the Spurs/Thunder series goes, I’m just hoping everyone stays healthy.  I love the idea of the Spurs winning one more title, but  but I also love the idea of the Thunder realizing their potential.  These are both very special teams.